Tasty Tuesday

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There is a very popular recipe for Chex Mix in my family; I am always happy to give it a shot, but other people in my family are much better at it. That being said, I try every year anyway for a simple reason: one recipe worth makes 6, 7, or even 8 packages worth of Chex Mix, suitable to give as gifts to true aficionados and, more commonly, suitable as a gift to thank someone who has chosen to host us for a holiday party. We make it during the first week of December and it is shelf stable enough to last till January; that being said, Husband can rarely resist it for that long!

I like the idea that there are some foods that are just for certain times of year. Sure, the ingredients are now available year-round, but I enjoyed a cone of Egg nog ice cream last week way more because I only get that creamy, nutmeg-y goodness once a year. I like that by sticking with a traditional timing for a food, I add specialness to it and I make a gift that would seem pretty phoned in, like a bag of prepared Chex Mix, into a labor of love (hours and hours of cooking!). It creates a fun tradition and expectation, which can be nice especially when my family is mostly adults and there aren’t many kids to get super excited about Christmas.

What are your favorite holiday food traditions? Do you make a big batch of something to split up and share with many people, like cookies for the neighbors, or do you make smaller and diverse dishes for different occasions? All this talk is making me hungry for my favorite gingerbread men with the butterscotch pudding mix as the “secret ingredient” – excuse me, I’ll be right back. 🙂

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Thanksgiving Day was so nice with my family, and I was able to mentally prepare for the meal partially because a few folks in our family have recently gone vegan. Not eating dairy or meat or eggs meant they had to use spicing, soy, and a little magic to make some truly amazing fruit, veggie, and whole grain dishes. The quinoa cakes were to die for, and of course I dug into the green bean casserole. I aimed for 75% of my plate to be filled up with fruits, veggies, or whole grains, and I did it! I am no vegan (ate some of that tasty grilled turkey for sure), but I love getting my proportions a little skewed toward plants.

That being said… AFTER Thanksgiving is when the real trouble starts for me. I’m pretty well-versed in making great plates, but I am still a child when it comes to resisting plates of dip and chips, piles of cookies, cheese trays, and more. Snacking is something I do with relish when there are just one or two options, but I get overwhelmed and make pretty poor choices when (like at the holidays) there are options to eat all the time.

No judgment for snacking aficionados – I am one! That being said, I’ve developed a few guidelines that I hope will carry me through the season:

  • A Taste is Fine: One of my great joys is trying new things, so I’m never going to deny myself one almond, one cracker, one cube of bacon cheddar. If I aim for a diverse group of tiny tastes, I will still make a moderate dent rather than a full stomach.
  • Load Up on Veggies When I Know I’m Craving: I try, these days, to be the person who brings the veggie tray and a big container of fruit salad, because I know I want to be able to mindlessly nosh on something that will only benefit me. I take much longer to finish a tiny plate of raw broccoli than the same plate piled with fudge, so it also takes up some party chitchat time.
  • Forgive and Forget… Focus on Good Memories! I know that my Thanksgiving week was punctuated by some serious splurges on French onion dip and peanut butter bites, but I refuse to let them make me feel guilty and wrong. I don’t want the holidays to feel like a time of scarcity, but rather just want to establish some general thoughts for myself in the midst of the snack abundance. If one or two days go south… I’ll forget them as soon as I can, and dwell instead on the great times with friends and loved ones.

 

 

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If anything has romanced me entirely, bewitched me and kept me hostage, it is brown butter. All you do to make it is caramelize a pat of butter, moving it constantly to keep it from burning but allowing it to toast up into a dark brown smooth sauce that is perfectly sweet from the lactose in butter turning into, essentially, caramel. There is nothing better… Lots of things better FOR you, but nothing that tastes more rich and decadent!

My first encounter with it was with a banana bread recipe – i heart eating has a scrumptious version. The brown butter made a great complement to my version of banana bread, which uses mostly fruit for sweetener and thus isn’t naturally super sweet. It doesn’t bother me as much as other butter applications, because without that glaze I’d still put butter on warm banana bread… such is my weakness. The glaze, however, does satisfy me to the point of not needing another layer of butter!

Recently, I had the above-pictured meal, and the brown butter was a treat. A sprig of crispy sage garnished a pile of ravioli filled with butternut squash; a little parmesan, some pomegranate arils for tang and color, and olive oil were all it needed. I knew that butternut squash was a sweet vegetable, but I think the brown butter sauce brought it out and made me feel like I was eating one of the sweet potato casseroles that is so popular at thanksgiving, not a regular savory pasta dish at all.

If you are looking to try out brown butter, I can recommend it as a sauce for… pretty much anything? Specifically pretty much anything that could use a sweet counterpoint to some other dominant flavor, since sweet on more sweet is not usually my style. For great, step by step tips on browning butter, check out the Kitchn, which always seems to be there to help me in tricky cooking situations.

If you aren’t a butter eater, I’m always in the market for healthier sauce alternatives, so feel free to fill the comments with your favorite kinds of sauces that can be slightly less rich but still make a dish pop the way that a concentrated little amount of brown butter does. See you all tomorrow; I’ll just be over here daydreaming about that ravioli again.

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On my trip to Virginia, I also ate some seriously good brunch. While I think many of my generation enjoy the idea of brunch and live for it on the weekends, it actually makes rare appearances in my life because it doesn’t work well with my schedule. I’m a girl who wakes up already hungry, and wakes up insanely early, so the idea of waking up hungry at 5:30 and waiting till 11 for my first meal just doesn’t work.

On this weekend trip, though, we managed to sleep in a bit and drink our coffee early, but put off eating for later. We met up with an old friend I haven’t seen for 3 years, and even though brunch lines are monumental (45 minutes chatting in the cold!), the food was delicious when I finally got my meal: the picture above is not my meal, but I got an amazing omelette full of herbed cream cheese, spinach, tomatoes, and swiss cheese, with a multigrain biscuit and cheese grits. Can you sense a cheesy theme?

Another reason brunch rarely fits into my life is that I end up eating a wonderful, heavy meal and feeling worthless for anything useful for the next few hours. This time, though, my friend was able to show me a cool community park full of found sculptures and cool misshapen furniture, and our slow stroll was enough to re-energize me for the rest of the day.

Do you have favorite brunch foods? I know that I usually am torn between sweet and savory, and there was a raspberry brie and honey french toast calling my name, but I resisted, since I can usually get more actual nutrition if I aim toward my cheesier, savory choices. Still, my perfect brunch would probably have some kind of pancake or waffle, a biscuit, some bacon, and a fluffy pile of scrambled eggs… or some home fries? Just bring me the whole menu, I think.

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On Saturday, we hosted our first ever Friendsgiving, which is essentially just a potluck that falls sometime near Thanksgiving, but is more festive because it has an autumnal theme. There were multiple dishes that featured squashes of various types. I was in heaven.

I especially liked that I didn’t have to make anything fancy; I toasted hawaiian rolls and made turkey sliders out of them, then baked up some grocery-store frozen sweet potato fries, and made a loaf of take and bake multigrain bread. I also made green bean casserole, mostly because I love crispy fried onions. The guests provided the charming food: homemade butternut squash soup, corn pudding, pumpkin pie, baked beans, and an amazing cookies and cream cake.

The beginning of the party felt comfy and homey, given that almost everyone had met each other before, but around two hours in I thought the party was about to peter out and people were going to go home. Instead, someone started a card game and everyone who wasn’t playing watched and chatted and ate second servings of dessert. They finally left just before midnight, and I couldn’t have been happier about it.

The thing I noticed with this party was that the people who know us are starting to become a group – sure, I may not invite each person’s favorite people to every party, but they know each other well enough to wish each other well. One of my guests suggested we make a potluck a monthly thing, inviting a big list of people with the assumption that some people won’t be able to make it each month but overall getting some subset of people together through the winter time. I love the idea of a roving party that happens each month in a different house; not only am I not really one for hosting (I do my best but love visiting other people’s homes more), I love the automatic-ness of a monthly gathering where you’ll get to catch up with the same group, deepening the bond.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you as well! I’m grateful that you read my blog. 🙂

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